Setting the record crooked

Setting the record crooked

Rick Stiebel | Columnist

For the past two years plus, it’s been both a pleasure and a privilege to craft a column for the Sooke News Mirror twice a month.

While I take a carte blanche approach to treating that space as a blank canvas where I can share random rambles, thoughts, opinions, quirks, attempts at humour or playful pokes at my wife, it’s a responsibility that I take with something the size of a salt lick.

I rely on the paper’s publisher, Rod Sluggett, editor Kevin Laird, and the discerning eye of Joan, the Editor Bride, to reel in Rickters that cross the invisible line, or burn a bridge too far.

I get a buzz when I see letters to the editor about my columns, whether they pass along praise for my prose or, as often is the case, serve up cringe-worthy criticism. It means someone was moved enough one way or the other to respond, and that’s good.

You can’t survive in this game without a thick layer of rhino hide, and the probability a reader will rant about my writing is part of the landscape within the boundaries journalists wander.

All opinion pieces will eventually expire without a whimper, but if they provoked thought, they didn’t die in vain. I regularly read columnists who leave me feeling like I’ve been poked in the eye because they force me to at least consider a polar opposite point of view, and that’s never bad.

There’s a clear divide between a journalist’s approach to reporting the news, where the five W’s must rule the keyboard, and writing an op-ed exploring views certain to rankle some readers. The majority of letters to the editor that don’t take aim at inaccurate facts more often than not place the author’s opinion in the crosshairs.

I couldn’t agree more with the writer of a letter that ran recently outlining how the media is shifting in a dangerous direction toward distorting the difference between fact and friction. It’s alarming how the Internet promotes the publication of blogs and pseudo-stories that slither like a snake between news and opinion, without the safeguard of an editor’s watchful eye.

Many of the folks who work for Fox, or State News as I like to call it, blur the lines with impunity because their handlers enable it, and in some cases demand it to boost ratings. Whether you include the CBC or (insert any media outlet of your choice here) within that group, the trend is on the rise in all forms of media.

That’s serious cause for concern because it wades into dangerous, uncharted waters that leave the truth scattered across the rocks. A selective collection of facts slanted in pursuit of propagating a particular point of view is nothing more than propaganda masquerading as fact.

Unfortunately, the number of people who soak up that kind of journalism is increasing because it reinforces their beliefs, without the constraints of what’s real, accurate or researched. That should scare the hell out of everyone, publishers, editors, readers and writers alike.

P.S. Keep those letters coming; Kevin really likes that.

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Rick Stiebel is a Sooke resident and semi-retired journalist.